Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Maidan

Looking at these photos of the Kiev protests, I have to say....I agree with myself even more on the futility and stupidity of the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Bank reform never happened and isn't even on the radar anymore.

In the Ukraine, the prime minister and his cabinet resigned.  Anti-protest laws were withdrawn.  And the country's parliament is offering amnesty to protestors. 


True story.

It's not yet 4 o'clock on a January morning.  The sun has been down for a good ten hours now.

And it's raining.

Current temps:  44 degrees.  

The forecast says it will get colder once the sun comes up, with snowfall of 3 to 5 inches expected.  Weird....

More Hip Hop

I think it's safe to say that a) I'm officially in "old man" mode and b) I just don't get it.

Spotted:  A story with the headline of "Don't Hate Macklemore Because He's White.  Hate Him Because His Music is Terrible."

Curious to see how Macklemore's music is uniquely terrible, compared to hip hop in general, I find this:
The Heist is a lavish dumbscape of plodding quarter-note grooves, “Chopsticks”-style piano loops, pointless choirs singing about nothing. Lewis’ beats are kitchen sinks of bad ideas, tin-eared imprecision mistaking itself for eclecticism. His crate-digging seems to start at a Feist song he once heard on an Apple commercial and end at the music JetBlue plays before the TVs turn on. And it’s all a backdrop for Macklemore’s contrived flows and mirror-practiced charisma; even his punny pop-culture references—the last refuge of every eager-beaver dorm room M.C.—are amazingly dull.
Finally, someone is calling out a rapper for being a rapper formulaic bore.  But the self-delusion on display is staggering.  "Contrived flows?"  Talk about buying your own press.  Not only is rhymed meter, by definition, a contrivance, but what is "flow" but an illusion of performance and composition*?

But this is what got me:
This is rap for people who don’t like rap that makes them feel proud of themselves for not liking rap, and for buying Macklemore albums, and as such it moves from bad music into immoral, bleached-out hucksterism, the undying legacies of Paul Whiteman and Pat Boone. At least the Stones and Zeppelin never claimed they were healing the blues as they were stealing from it.
First, that "rap for people who don't like rap" stings.  Perhaps it's true.  When I first heard "Thrift Shop," I thought it was a rap parody, ala The Lonely Island or Flight of the Conchords.  But I also dug the horns (lazy "crate-digging," I suppose) and the non-conformist rejection of the conspicuous consumption that's so often celebrated in rap music.

It's not "rap music for people who don't like rap music," so much as it is rap music for people who like rap but don't like the cliches of hip hop culture

Second, the stuff about Zeppelin and the Stones is just culturally and historically ignorant.  The truth is much more complicated.  No one told these young English musicians that white people are not supposed to listen to, or be inspired by, American "race music" from the South.  No one told white Americans that they would actually enjoy blues music if they just got over their dumb racist sociological beliefs and listened to it.  Until the British Invasion, that is.

If you're going to say these bands "stole" from the blues, you first have to accept that the blues didn't belong to them in the first place, but that's the same racist idea that relegated the blues to the Chitlin Circuit.

It's also the same racist attitude on display here:
Hip-hop is certainly a culture “founded from oppression,” but what might you know of that, Macklemore? It quickly starts to feel like the white kid in the front row of the Af-Am Studies class, droning on about his own radicalism, convinced he’s the only one in the room with Dead Prez on his iPhone.
No, it's true.  White people know nothing about oppression.  Unless they try to get into the rap game.

*  In later reading this morning, I came across this piece by Penn Jillette reflecting on the genius of the Beatles.   I described "flow" as an "illusion of performance and composition." 

This is kind of what I meant:
I've met a lot of musicians, and they bang around a lot before they come up with the finished track, or the finished composition. I've learned that writing books, essays, and magic patter is mostly editing. No matter how clear the idea is, you have to monkey with it. You have to work.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Hip Hop is Dead

I've been arguing, with limited success, to my nephew that hip hop music is artistically stagnant.  He reminds me that I don't really know, which is true, since I don't listen to much hip hop and tend to avoid it rather than seek it out.

Also true, however, is that I'm part of the hip hop generation.  In 1986, I bugged my Mom to buy me the Beastie Boys Licensed to Ill LP.  With the neighborhood kids, we used to listen to Eazy E and 2 Live Crew tapes long before the PMRC popularized the "Explicit Lyrics" sticker.  We roller skated to Bust a Move.  For a couple of months, we thought MC Hammer was actually cool.  (I was in Junior High.)

After a while I lost interest, though.  Rap took this gangsta turn that I didn't like and couldn't identify with, and I moved on.  Fast forward 20 years and not much has changed.  Kendrick Lamar comes out with an album about life in Compton and the kindest thing the aficionados have to say is that it's as good as Nas's Illmatic, which came out in 1994!

The obvious contrast to draw would be with rock music, which is basically irrelevant these days, but was the world champion of popular music for nearly 50 years.  Part of the reason, I think, is that each new generation remade it in their own image.  Musicians were not only inspiring other musicians, but were also reacting to them.  Elvis inspired the Beatles.  The Beatles' studio wizardry inspired Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.

Consider: Jailhouse Rock and Black Sabbath's debut LP are separated by 12 very short, revolutionary years.

In the 70s, tired of 10 minute solos, the youth rebelled and created punk rock, inadvertently sowing the seeds for New Wave and later, Grunge, which in and of itself was also a rebellion against hair metal.

Indeed, the history of rock music can be marked by trends, rejections, rebellions, by cross-breeding and mutations.  It evolved.  It survived.   It had a Darwinian genetic diversity that allowed it to thrive in multiple environments over multiple generations.

Hip-hop, on the other hand, is an artistic monoculture.  It's been mining the same territory it always has:  the street.  It's obsessed with cultivating an inauthentic "realness," which since it's so fake, manifests itself in affectations:  the lingo, the walk, the sagging pants.  Since conformity is key, there will be no rebellions or deconstructions in hip hop.

For rap fans, the premiere match-up of the 56th Grammy Awards was between Macklemore, of infinitely played-out "Thrift Shop" fame, versus Kendrick Lamar, whose major-label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city, cemented a landmark narrative within the genre, frequently compared to Nas's '94 classic, Illmatic. Radio Disney bop-fun versus nihilistic, sex-fueled correspondence from the wrong boulevard in Compton, California—guess which LP the Grammys voters preferred?
A better question is which LP would hip-hop fans prefer?  More nihilstic, sex-fueled stuff from Compton --the same territory mined by Eazy E in 1987-- or the white guy who did songs about thrift shops and gay marriage?

It seems like the "Mackelmore wins a Grammy" controversy exposes for all the world to see that hip hop fans want more of the same and cannot reject fast enough the non-conformist white guy.  That's not to say that race is much of a factor here.  If Mackelmore rapped about the acceptable subject matter and adopted the necessary affectations, it wouldn't be a factor at all.

Woe to the hip-hop fan, stuck in the same mode, twenty years spent still looking for the next  Illmatic.